Union Pacific Corp. reported quarterly profit that topped analysts’ estimates, which had been adjusted down in the last month, as the railroad leaned on efficiency to make up for lower carloads and higher labor costs.
(Bloomberg) — Union Pacific Corp. reported quarterly profit that topped analysts’ estimates, which had been adjusted down in the last month, as the railroad leaned on efficiency to make up for lower carloads and higher labor costs.
Earnings were $2.51 a share during the third quarter, down from $3.05 a year earlier, Union Pacific said Thursday in a statement. Analysts had predicted $2.41 on average, an estimate that had been lowered by more than 20 cents since mid-September. Sales fell 9.5% to $5.94 billion.
The company was helped by lower taxes that added 8 cents a share to earnings, partially offset by a one-time writeoff, according to Justin Long, an analyst with Stephens.
“Netting out these items, these operational results were still slightly better than feared,” Long said in a note.
Union Pacific’s shares jumped 6.3% at 9:31 a.m. in New York. The stock was down less 1% this year through Wednesday’s close.
The railroad has contended with a freight recession that has taken a toll on profit, especially after a new five-year labor contract in December that increased pay and time off for workers. Union Pacific also dealt with network disruption and other costs after Hurricane Hilary flooded and washed out track in August.
“We faced many challenges in the quarter, including continued inflationary pressures and a drop in carloads,” Chief Executive Officer Jim Vena, who took over for Lance Fritz on Aug. 14, said in the statement. Still, “operationally we gained momentum through the quarter.”
Vena, who helped improve Union Pacific’s efficiency as chief operating officer for two years through the end of 2020, has been charged with improving Union Pacific’s service and customer relations. Those had deteriorated amid an influx of goods during the pandemic while the railroad grappled with hiring enough workers.
A drop in demand and higher costs caused operating profit margins to drop to 36.6% last quarter from about 40% a year earlier. The railroad improved its network efficiency with the daily average distance that railcars traveled — an indicator Vena often highlights — rising to 200 miles from 191 miles a year earlier.
That railcar-velocity indicator should rise to more than 220 miles per day, which was the level in early 2020, Vena said on a conference call with analysts. “Fluidity is king,” he said.
Carloads fell 2.7% in the quarter from a year earlier, led lower by forest products, food and refrigerated goods and containerized freight known as intermodal, the railroad said. Automotive and metals carloads rose.
The company boosted its forecast for this year’s capital expenditures by $100 million to $3.7 billion
(Updates with share trading in fifth paragraph)
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